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Health, Sports & Psychology

Keep your mind on your driving; keep your hands on the wheel

Updated Thursday 28th May 2009

Could you be more prone to car accidents if you listen to football commentary on the radio while you are driving?

I often listen to sport on the radio in the car; my preference is for Test Match Special, when it’s on, but I do listen to football.

Classic car radio Creative commons image Icon dsearls under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license

I am not alone in this; the average UK motorist apparently listens to football on the radio three times a month. 21% do so  every week and over 6% do so every day, which is two million people all tuning in to football daily as they drive. However, sport, at least not in all its forms, may not necessarily be good for your health. Listening to football commentary on the radio while you are driving could be dangerous and lead to accidents, according to a report commissioned by esure, the car insurance company. 

The research, carried out by the University of Leicester and published in a report called Football Focus, received media attention on 27 May 2009, the day of the Champions League Final.

Football is emotional; there’s no doubt about that. Sport elicits powerful commitment and the thought of fans extending the exuberance and distress of the terraces to their driving practices is alarming.

This research suggests that the behaviour of fans is very different from casual listeners, who do not adjust their behaviour behind the wheel in such extreme ways (tail-gating, erratic acceleration and sudden lane changes). I have, for a long time wondered about the embodied responses of spectatorship, for example in being a spectator at the game, especially, in the case of boxing, which I have written about in my book, Boxing, Masculinity and Identity, the i of the tiger (published by Routledge), where being at the fight is a very different experience from the more sanitised spectatorship of pay-for-view television.

However, I have also noted the physical reactions of the sporting follower who is listening at a distance, especially in the case of football with its distinctive style of commentary. I have felt disquiet as the rising crescendo of commentary increases my heart rate and seems to implicate the embodied listener in the waves of emotion evoked in the reporting of the game, even  when I care little for the outcome and my team is not involved at all. 

Sport is sensational, not only in the sense of media hyperbole - it appeals to and implicates all the senses of everyone involved.

The voice of the commentary could itself be a part of the total experience of sport. The research distinguishes between the fan and the uncommitted listener, but I think that there may be something more in the synthesis of the embodied experience that is particular to sport and specific to some sports, especially the genre of football commentary. It is clear that anxiety and exhilaration might lead to other embodied practices, such as accelerating.

This research demonstrates that it is not only sport, on the pitch, and spectatorship, at the ground, that is embodied; so too is the empathy and identification that people have with sport. As I demonstrate in another book, Embodied Sporting Practices (published by Palgrave Macmillan), sport is not only all about bodies, about embodied sporting practices (that is, what sort of physical activities make up what we call sport) it is also about the interaction between everyone involved, including those listening in their cars.  The research also indicates that sport is sensational, not only in the sense of media hyperbole - it appeals to and implicates all the senses of everyone involved.


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